Looking for a home is an occasion that calls for all the excitement. You’re beginning a new adventure in your humble abode, and what’s not to like about that? Well, if you get scammed, it could leave a pretty sour taste in your mouth – plus empty pockets. And while rental scams aren’t a common theme in the UK, they do happen every now and then. In order to ensure that your home search is full of smiles and not frowns, we’ve put this guide together focusing on the scams you should look out for when renting a home and how to avoid them.
1) The fake home
Ever thought that something is too good to be true? Unfortunately, in the world of houses, that’s probably the case if you think you’ve found a bargain. Most of the time, super cheap properties don't exist… or they’re not actually available.
How does it work? The scam involves someone with access to keys for an empty property claiming to be the landlord. They show you around, and everything seems just fine. But when you go through the renting process and prepare to move in, it turns out the building isn’t theirs to rent out, and it’s already occupied.
It can be difficult spotting a fake home, especially if you’ve already looked around the property. Alarm bells should ring if a landlord ever pushes you to pay the security deposit or the first month’s rent before the move-in date.
2) Gumtree landlords
Gumtree is an online marketplace advertising just about everything, including homes to rent. Now, don’t get us wrong; Gumtree has loads of legitimate properties to rent. However, it can also be a hotbed for fake homes – and you won’t even be able to view these ones.
Someone will advertise a property – often below market price – and then make excuses for why they can’t show it to you (busy schedule, lives overseas, having work carried out). Instead, they will insist that you pay the deposit and first month's rent upfront.
The property listing will feature all the accredited NLA (National Landlords Association) logos, further enhancing its legitimacy. The “landlord” will promise to meet you at the property on the agreed move-in date to hand over the keys (after you've already paid).
Fortunately, this type of scam is easier to spot than others. You should never hand over any money before you’ve seen the property unless you’re watching a video viewing with a verified website like Movebubble or letting agent’s site. However, when communicating with the landlord directly and without a letting agent, it’s best to view the property in person first.
There are occasions where a landlord will agree to let the property, only to say you didn’t pass referencing. Under UK law, renters are due their deposit back if they fail referencing. However, not everyone is aware of this rule, and some landlords have been known to exploit it.
Alternatively, the landlord may return some of the deposit while holding the rest for “wasted marketing purposes” as they have to re-advertise the property. Again, this is illegal – the only way a landlord can keep the holding deposit is if you decide not to rent the property after going through referencing.
If you find that a landlord is refusing to return your holding deposit after deciding they don’t want to let the property, seek legal advice, either through Citizens Advice or a solicitor.
How to avoid rental scams
The best way to avoid rental scams is by going through official channels. Whether it’s a rental platform like Movebubble or a letting agent, using trusted websites provides a layer of security that you don’t get when going through the landlord directly. That’s not to say all landlords are trying to scam you, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and use official platforms. That way, you can enjoy all the best bits about moving, including settling into your brand new pad.